Q. Kindly give our readers an introduction to your business. Please include what your business is all about, in which city you are located and if you have offices in multiple locations/ cities.
Ans: American Illumination, Inc. is a manufacturer and supplier of cutting edge LED lighting components and luminaires for both interior and outdoor applications. While our products range from specification grade to value-driven solutions, we are a one-stop shop for any lighting and procurement needs. We also provide consulting services for clients looking to take their products or projects to the next level. We pride ourselves on being a crucial partner for other lighting fixture manufacturers, but we also service lighting designers, architects, product designers and facility owners. Our HQ is located in the city of Torrance, CA.
Q. Kindly give us a brief description about yourself (it should include your brief educational or entrepreneurial background and list some of your major achievements).
Ans: I graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelors in Economics and minor in Business Institutions. Throughout college, I wanted to pursue a career in the music/entertainment industry, and held internships at a record label, music marketing/PR agency, and music and events production company. However, my career trajectory changed at the height of the 2008 recession, when I was called upon by my father to help build his business in lighting, called American Illumination, Inc. He was looking for someone to help take over sales & marketing efforts at a time when LED lighting was brand new and growing exponentially. While I had skills in sales and marketing, I had no experience in lighting, much less electronics and never truly considered how a bulb worked. Fortunately, being that LED’s were so new to the industry as a general illumination source, I was able to learn at the same pace as longstanding lighting veterans and develop my expertise at an accelerated pace. Being an electrical engineer, my father taught me as much as he could about the technology, but a lot of my education came from working closely with our early customers as well as attending every lighting trade show and seminar I could. In the early days, we supplied only LED lighting components for other brands’ fixtures, but over time we have started to develop luminaires for our clients, as well as forge a wide network of trusted factories so that our customers know they can rely on us for high quality, vetted fixtures. Reputation is incredibly important to a small business like us, as trust and loyalty go a long way. What I appreciate about my job is that every day is different, because we could be working on a consulting project to help develop a client’s line of fixtures, or we can be on site helping demo track lights for a gallery, to designing solutions for a completely new application.
Q. What inspired you to (start a new business venture) or (to make significant changes in an existing business)? How did the idea for your business come about?
Ans: I did not start the business, but my father did. Given his background as an electrical engineer, as well as his proficiency in both Mandarin and Cantonese, he was approached to start a sourcing business on the cusp of LED introduction. LED’s were just starting to be used in general illumination applications, but a lot of it was junk coming from China. So my Dad set off to find the best solutions, but in the process, realized that he could invent the wheel. In fact, many of the solutions we have now were designed and invented by him, because at the time, the market solutions needed simply didn’t exist. He started by creating LED light engines that were extremely versatile, so that clients who are creating virtually any type of lighting fixture could use them for different applications. After I joined the company, I helped evolve the business model beyond supplying off-the-shelf components. In the early days, there were very few competitors doing what we do, creating LED light engines for fixture OEM’s (original equipment manufacturers). However, the industry has matured substantially as there are now countless players, more sophisticated upstream suppliers overseas, and savvier OEM’s who now know how to design with LED technology. Add to that, the commodification of LED products and decreasing component prices, so we had to carve out a niche that pushed beyond our existing product line and offered solutions for virtually any lighting need. Unlike larger companies, we are nimble and can turn around custom products much more quickly at a more cost effective price point. And our expertise with our LED light engines have allowed us to push the envelope for privately labeled LED luminaire solutions, helping other lighting brands get started at a fraction of the time and with minimal barriers to entry. Our clients now utilize us for different needs, from LED light engines, to manufacturing their luminaires, to consulting and sourcing.
Q. What three pieces of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
- Never assume you know everything, because there is always something to learn.
- Always be learning and stay on top of new trends in your industry, so that you can pursue them as new sales or service opportunities.
- Give 100% to your clients. They are your biggest partners and giving them excellent service will open doors to long term relationships, as well as referrals for more business to come. A good reputation is priceless.
Q. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Ans: Tenacity, resourcefulness, and a great idea.
Q. How many hours do you work a day on average?
Ans: 10-11 hours give or take. Since our vendors and factory are overseas, I have to be able to answer messages in the evening in order to prevent unnecessary delays. Generally I’m always monitoring my emails.
Q. To what do you most attribute your success?
Ans: My hard-working nature and resourcefulness.
Q. How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
Ans: Trade shows have always been a great way to meet new clients and solidify existing ones. Having a good website and SEO campaign to drive traffic is another crucial factor. We also send out regular E-blasts to our existing clients. We have also taken out print and online advertisements in magazines and buyers’ guides, but those are better suited for branding.
Q. Where did your organizations funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?
Ans: Self funded
Q. What is the best way to achieve long-term success?
Ans: That is a good question… We’re still figuring that out!
Q. Where you see yourself and your business in 5 – 10 years?
Ans: Making more money!
Q. Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Ans: In the course of business, I work with hyper creative “makers” who produce designs that I never would have dreamed of. I really admire their artistry and ability to manipulate different materials, with the end result being a luminaire that perfectly complements a space. So many people are creative, but not many can build a career out of their creativity, year after year.
Q: How important have good employees been to your success?
Ans: There is a reason they say, “Good help is hard to find.” Having good employees is the foundation upon which a business is built. Without them, we can’t succeed.
Q: How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Ans: It depends on the idea. A lot of our product expansion comes from demand because we are client oriented. And if something doesn’t sell, we simply know we either weren’t marketing it well, or it wasn’t a good idea.
Q: What motivates you?
Ans: The fact that I’m working for the family business is a huge motivator. I’m not just an employee. I have a vested interested in our success.
Q: What are your ideals?
Ans: Work hard but work smarter.
Q: How do you generate new ideas?
Ans: We do a lot of custom work, but that doesn’t mean we don’t worry about runaway costs. Therefore, it’s not always necessary that we reinvent the wheel. When thinking about a lighting component, for example, a lot of the design ideation is based on the application and requirements, with practical features that would enhance the end product. Other times, ideas are generated by collaborating with clients. Sometimes thinking outside of the box leads to some really great new concepts.
Q: How do you define success?
Ans: Financial stability and a steady but growing need for our services.
Q: How do you build a successful customer base?
Ans: Be their resource and their expert. Understand your customer’s needs first. Sometimes you have to anticipate their needs and hold their hands a bit when you get started, which is very time consuming. But you are building a relationship and loyalty. Become crucial to their operation, whether it’s supplying them with something they can’t get elsewhere, or going the extra mile for them when they can get it somewhere else.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Ans: Flexibility with my schedule and being my own boss (most of the time).
Q: What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Ans: Every time we complete a big project, and being able to see the photos of the incredible result.
Q: What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?
Ans: As an entrepreneur, your livelihood is on the line. You become synonymous with your business because oftentimes, your identity is wrapped up into it. It’s the first thing you think about in the morning and the thing you dream about most often at night. When you work for someone else, the moment you leave work, you check out.
Q: What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
Ans: As a small family owned business, we have a tight knit family culture. It’s casual, and everyone understands they need to wear different hats when called for.
Q: In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.
Ans: Work in progress, always.
Q: If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Ans: Might have gone a different route for my undergraduate education, perhaps in architecture or engineering. The good thing is, there is always opportunity to continue learning even now.
Q: How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
Ans: I don’t have any dependents, so it hasn’t really affected me much.
Q: What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
Ans: Sometimes you have no choice but to fight through it. Fear of failure is the greatest of them all.
Q: How did you decide on the location for your business?
Ans: It’s a central location with good freeway access and reasonable rent per square foot (back then..).
Q: Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Ans: Entrepreneurs don’t take failure as a reason to stop what they’re doing. They turn it around and keep hustling. They are constantly reading or learning ways to become better at what they do.
Q: Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Ans: My parents. They immigrated to the US for a better life and gave me the foundation to do anything I wanted. They work incredibly hard and sacrificed a lot of comforts to ensure my sister and I had the best start in life.
Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
Q: How can you prevent mistakes or do damage control?
Ans: Sweat the details and have a good system for double checking your work. You don’t want some mistake to occur without knowing about it before your client does. When it does happen, be honest, realistic and fair about how you will fix it.
Q: What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
Ans: Exercise, traveling, trying new restaurants, and having a great cocktail. And I love to shop.
Q: What makes you happy?
Ans: Spending quality time with loved ones. Experiencing new things. Great food.
Visit us : https://american-illumination.com/